Interview: Eliza Doolittle

Three years after her self-titled debut album went platinum and propelled her into the spotlight,  Eliza Doolittle is back with her sophomore effort, In Your Hands. The  talented 25 year old Londoner spoke to Kaye Holland about singing, sunshine and why she wouldn’t have made a good studentHi Eliza! Congratulations on your new album. We love it, but it’s fair to say that it’s a departure from the chirpy pop songs of your eponymous first album... Yes. On my first album I was maybe a little more guarded and focused on my surroundings rather than what I was feeling within. I really let it all spill out on this album. It’s full of discovery and learning so much about myself and how I feel about love and life in general. On my last record I hadn’t experienced much of anything really. It was quite a light album, very feel good.”

Listening to the album, it's clear you have been through the ringer (Eliza's new album was written after her split from tattooed American Benji Madden, of rock band Good Charlotte, earlier this year). The songs that came from the break-up definitely fuelled things in me. I was writing constantly, just getting it out of my system. It’s not a break-up album, though. Maybe the break-up triggered it but it’s really about discovering things about myself I didn’t know before.”

Do you have a favourite song from the album? You know what, they’re all my favourites. I recorded something like 100 songs and selected around 16 for the album so every song that made the cut, I love. Do you have a favourite? [I tell her I like the chipper Big When I Was Little - her hit summer single - the poignant Let It Rain and uplifting ballad No Man Can which elicits a polite: “Thank-you very much. That means a lot.”]

Why was there such a long gap (three years) between this album and the last?  I’d planned to release In Your Hands two years after my debut album came out, but it ended up being longer because of changes that occurred within my record label (Parlophone). It means that I had more time to perfect the album though and can feel really confident about it.

How do you write your songs? I make sure I take a note of all my ideas whenever something pops into my head. If I sing something new in the shower, I’ll jump out and record it. I’m always getting ideas and they go on my dictaphone or my phone.

It’s well documented that you relocated to the States to write and record In Your Hands. Would you ever permanently leave London for LA?  No - I like London too much. That said it would be great to have a house in LA and a house in London and spend six months in each place chasing the sun - summer is my favourite time of year. I’d need to write a few more songs and have  a few more hits to be able to do that, though!

You’re from a hugely successful stage family (Eliza is the daughter of Tony Award winning West End star Frances Ruffele and respected director and playwright John Caird, and the granddaughter of stage school founder Sylvia Young) and have trod the boards yourself (Eliza spent six months playing the young Cosette in the London stage version of Les Miserables when she was eight). Are you tempted to go back to the theatre? I love the theatre and am not ruling out a return to the stage but my focus, for now, is my music. I’m obsessed with writing.

Can you think of an alternative career that you might also like to have followed? That’s a really hard question. When I was really little I wanted to be a taxi driver but by the time I was 12 I knew that I wanted to be a recording artist. Music has always been in my blood.

Your first hit, Pack Up, released in 2010 saw you hailed as the "new Lily Allen" (the two shared a record label and publicist at that point). But whose career would you like to emulate? Beyonce. When I was really young, I wanted to be in Destiny’s Child and  watching Beyonce go solo and evolve into the respected artist she is today has been very inspiring.

Any advice for younger singers such as Miley Cyrus (the former Disney star has been a subject of controversy in recent months, following her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards which saw her mimicking masturbation with an oversized foam finger and twerking with teddy bears)? All I’d say is be true to yourself. You just have to be yourself. If you can do that, you’ll be fine.

Let’s talk fashion... You’re known for your trademark trainers and hot pants - has your style changed since your first album? I still love my hot pants and trainers, but I haven’t worn any little shorts for a while now. I tend to rock one look for ages and then move onto another when I get bored. Let’s see what’s next!

Your real name is Eliza Caird but you chose the stage name of Eliza Doolittle - a character from My Fair Lady. How did that come about? Because like you [readers: I’ve just mispronounced 'Caird'] no one knows how to say my real surname! People think I chose Doolittle because of my family’s theatrical background but actually it's nothing to do with that. It's just a name I’ve been called since I was a child and it’s stuck...

You didn’t go to university. Any regrets on not experiencing student life? No because I wasn’t that into school. I was ok but I was always looking out of the window and wanting to be somewhere else - I always wanted to sing. That’s just me though. I kind of wish I was more studious and really admire uni students who are able to knuckle down and hit the books.

Will you be going on tour with the album? Yes and it will be a global tour, but that’s all I know right now. I’m still figuring out all the details but I love touring and showcasing my songs. The only downside is the homesickness. Do you get homesick often, then? Yes, when I am travelling. My band and musicians become my family on the road but I do miss my real family and friends back home, more than anything  when I’m away. I Skype them all the time and I arrange for everyone to meet up when I get home. I’m not complaining though - I know I have an amazing opportunity!

Anything else you’d like to add, Eliza? Just a big thank you to everyone for their support and I hope you like the new album as much as I do!

Thanks Eliza! Eliza’s new album, In Your Hands, is out now.